It’s a bigger deal than it sounds.
On November 17, 2020 I ran an entire mile. That’s not much to most people but it was a significant milestone in a 337 day long rehabilitation process. It was the first entire mile I had run since December 13, 2019. On that day I ran three miles and felt fine. But the next day, pain in one foot caused a limp that then caused my back to hurt. The next morning, I stumbled into the bathroom, tried to sit down and screamed loud enough for my wife to hear me on the other end of the house.
The pain in my lower back was unlike anything I had ever encountered. It froze any movement and radiated down through my right buttock and on to the end of the toes on my right foot. An hour later my wife had four dining chairs spaced out along the path from our front door to my truck. She held me up as I shuffled to the first chair and collapsed in pain. A few minutes later she held me up and I shuffled to the second chair and collapsed. We repeated this to the third and fourth chairs until I finally made into my truck, and off to the local emergency room and the miracle of morphine.
We lived in Florida at that time and two trips to the Mayo Clinic ER in Jacksonville would ensue. There would be X-rays, ultrasound, an MRI and two spinal injections for pain. There was a month spent using a walker to get around. For most of January, I could not lie on my back or my stomach or either side. I curled up in a recliner for twenty-seven straight nights trying to find some position that would ease the pain enough for me to drift off in exhausted sleep. The sleep never lasted more than an hour or two before the pain would jolt me back into wakefulness. Then I would start all over. And this was while I was under the influence of muscle relaxers and narcotic pain medicine.
What had happened to my back? Scoliosis had combined with degenerative arthritis to pinch a nerve between my L4 and L5 vertebrae. I would not wish this on my worst enemy or yours. Why did it happen on that particular day? No one seems to know.
Recovery from this ordeal was long, slow and painful. Physical therapy helped, and I eventually reached the point of not needing pain killers. My goals along the way were measured in baby steps. Be able to lie down in bed. Be able to walk without the walker. Walk to the mailbox. Walk five minutes with the dog. Walk a mile, then finally run, very slowly, an entire mile. My pace was akin to the survival shuffle that many of us embrace at the end of an ultramarathon. But the pace wasn’t important. What was important was that I had actually run an entire mile.
There may be people reading this who scoff at my story. They may have been through much worse than me and I fervently wish that they had not. Some may read this and, knowing that they will never run any distance, have no sympathy for me.
All I can say is that I wish that not only could they run a mile too, but that we could run it together. Right here in my Tennessee neighborhood or wherever they happen to be.
Someone who is not a runner may not understand, but runners do. Runners would understand when I talked to my wife about my fear of never running again. They would understand when, in tears, I acknowledged that at least my last race was with her, our daughter and our oldest grandson.
What comes next? I will slowly and gradually work toward the next big milestone, which is to run two miles. At that point I’ll adjust in accordance with how I feel.
When someone has run for forty years like I have, it is hard to accept the idea that it can end in one unforeseen moment. We know it can happen but we never really expect it too. Having now seen the possibility up close I will never take another run for granted.